As Congress heads into the Thanksgiving recess, legislation is being streamlined for hasty passage. The Energy Bill, which was passed earlier this year in two very different forms by the House and Senate, is being trimmed down in the hopes that it will be voted on before Turkey Day. Currently what that means is that House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) could cut clean energy programs like Crazy Eddie slashes prices. In an effort to push it through quickly, the Democratic leadership has decided to remove the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) and the tax incentives for clean energy development.
Moves like these could be a huge blow to public investment in clean tech. The RPS program would require energy utilities to get 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020. Potentially more devastating to the development of individual clean energy facilities would be the destruction of production tax credit (PTC) and the investment tax credit (ITC), which together would fuel clean tech with a $32 billion tax package.
These cuts are being considered in an effort to secure the first increase in CAFE standards in 30 years, raising the fuel efficiency fleet wide to 35 mpg by 2020, up from 27.5 mpg for cars and 22.2 mpg for SUVs and light trucks. But clean-tech insiders and environmental groups see this as a complete evisceration of the energy bill.
“I can’t imagine the Congressional leadership would seriously propose an energy bill that would not place a strong emphasis on renewable energy, especially the long-term tax incentives that are so vital to the growth of the industry,” Randall Swisher, executive director of the American Wind Energy Association, told Renewable Energy Access. Without the tax packages, the development of maturing technologies like solar and wind will be stalled, rendering them far less competitive with traditional energy sources.
The cuts come as a surprise to many. Critics are pointing to Senator Reid’s own web site where he claims “[i]t is important to invest in clean, affordable energy produced in places rich with renewable energy resources,” in an attempt to regain support for the tax programs. Check previous coverage of the House Energy Bill here.
Meanwhile, the 2007 Farm Bill continues to flounder and looks poised to take cuts right alongside the Energy Bill. Last week, Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) moved to take the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) from the Energy Bill and attach it to the Farm Bill, claiming that he didn’t want it to get lost if the Energy Bill fails. Many see this as an attempt to sink the Energy Bill, viewing the RFS as “one of the key planks holding support for the energy bill together,” because it has the support of Midwestern Republicans. Domenici is trying to attach a loan guarantee program for nuclear power to the Farm Bill as well, which critics say would have absolutely no business being there.
All in all, Congress’s hastiness with these bills could result in less-than-stellar gains for clean tech. With oil approaching $100 a barrel, this comes as a serious blow. Although it has an opportunity to do some serious good for both the environment and the economy in re-crafting the nation’s energy policy, Congress appears poised to drop the ball.